Which team is most overrated in these Power Rankings?
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: I’m sure the bulk of the voting was done before the news of Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, but even so, I don’t see why the Cowboys are five spots higher than the Giants, who beat them twice last year and finished two games behind them. Suspensions and other issues on the defensive side of the ball, coupled with a brutal-looking schedule, were reasons to knock Dallas down further than this.
Mike Clay, NFL writer: The good news is that Denver’s dominant 2016 defense mostly remains intact for this season. The bad news is that this team is without much punch or depth on the offensive side of the ball. Though some teams can manage with question marks or deficiencies at running back, tight end and on the offensive line, Denver’s dismal quarterback situation is a deal breaker. Trevor Siemian is a replacement-level player and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch has yet to show signs of an emergence. Denver very well could end up bringing up the rear in a tough AFC West.
Aaron Schatz, editor of Football Outsiders: Houston may have finished 9-7 thanks to close victories last year, but the Texans ranked 29th in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. This is a team that was outscored by 49 points during the season, and got pummeled by a Patriots team led by their third-string quarterback. Houston’s 8-2 record in games decided by seven points or fewer is likely to regress toward the mean. Yes, J.J. Watt is back, but we can’t assume that he’ll return at the same level of play he showed before his recent injuries. And there’s no reason to believe the quarterback play will be better in the short term. Chances are that Deshaun Watson will be a big improvement over Brock Osweiler in the long term, but these aren’t the 2019 power rankings.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: The No. 3 ranking for Seattle could be optimistic. Teams usually need to win 12-plus games to finish with one of the three best records. I see the Seahawks winning fewer than that unless their running game comes back to life. They should be good enough to win the NFC West, but their window as a truly elite team is a little tighter now than it was a few years ago.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: I don’t see the Cardinals as a top-10 team. From a big picture standpoint, the best you can say is that they play in a weak division that includes two teams — the Rams and 49ers — who appear miles away from the playoffs. Arizona looks like a team puttering to the end of its competitive window, with a 37-year-old quarterback and a roster that includes 15 players at least 30 years old.
What about the opposite — who’s underrated?
Graziano: A lot of teams. The Bengals, Rams and Chargers should all be better than they’re ranked here, for a variety of reasons. But having been to Washington’s camp as well as Philadelphia’s, I would definitely not rank the Eagles higher. Washington’s roster is stronger than a lot of people realize, and the defense could really benefit from the addition of safety D.J. Swearingerand the possible return of Junior Galette from injury. Washington should score plenty, and if Dallas and/or the Giants take a step back, they should be a factor in the NFC East race.
Clay: Right when it seemed like the Chargers’ bandwagon was finally picking up well-deserved steam, they show up here 24th. Twenty. Fourth. Los Angeles’ newest franchise has a top-10 team on paper and one of the most balanced rosters in the league. The season-ending injury to rookie guard Forrest Lamp is unfortunate, but far from a knockout blow. Led by the likes of Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Jason Verrett, the Chargers are primed for a playoff run in 2017.
Schatz: I understand why nobody else is going to jump on my “Rams going 8-8” bandwagon until they see the product on the field, but I remind you: Wade Phillips has an insane track record of improving defenses. There’s no reason to believe the Rams’ defense won’t be as good as Houston’s, maybe even Denver’s. (Unlike Denver, the Rams can stop the run.) The special teams are better and the quarterback play … well, it has to be better than last year, right? If Jared Goff could just be as good as Trevor Siemian, the Rams are going to be in the wild-card hunt.
Sando: Cincinnati jumps out. The 23rd-ranked Bengals are one spot below Baltimore in this poll. I’m not sure why that would be the case. Cincy should finish in the top half of the league with an explosive offense and decent defense. Also, Miami will be better than 25th, and San Francisco has a chance to surprise — at least a little.
Seifert: If the Chargers can somehow avoid the injury bug that has plagued them for years, they’re at least a top-half team and thus are underrated in this poll by at least eight spots. Adding a full offseason for tight end Hunter Henryand the return of receiver Keenan Allen gives them another two high-end offensive weapons. If Anthony Lynn can successfully transition into the head coach’s role, the Chargers can exceed their modest expectations.